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The Kite Runner

Mathew Spangler, from the novel by Khaled Hosseini

Nottingham Playhouse and Liverpool Everyman Production, presented by Martin Dodd for UK Productions and Stuart Galbraigh for Kilimanjaro Productions

The Lowry, Salford

May 7-11, 2024. Touring until July 2024; 2hr 30 min


Yazdan Qafouri as Hassan and Stuart Vincent as Amir in The Kite Runner. All pics: Barry Rivett for Hotshot
Yazdan Qafouri as Hassan and Stuart Vincent as Amir in The Kite Runner. All pics: Barry Rivett for Hotshot
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On the tenth anniversary of his best-selling novel (first published in 2003), Khaled Hosseini wrote that he was honoured when readers told him the book had helped make Afghanistan a real place for them. No longer "just" the caves of Tora Bora, poppy fields and Bin Laden, but a place of individuals with often heartbreaking stories.

The narrative starts in that country, in the relatively peaceful mid-1970s, but over the following decades covers war and turmoil, crosses continents, and contrasts class and cultures.

Can such an epic be translated successfully to the stage? The answer is that Afghanistan and its troubles are reflected in a powerful story, showing human nature and relationships at their best and at their worst, that resonates with theatre audiences and beyond.

Young Amir and Hassan grow up together. Amir is the son of an affluent and influential Pashtun man. Hassan and his father Ali are servants and of the minority Hazara Shias. The boys are very close. Yet although Hassan would - and does - do anything for Amir, his "friend' is jealous of his father's admiration for the underprivileged but loyal and courageous boy.

The turning point comes at a kite-running festival. Kite running at that time was an integral part of Afghan culture (subsequently banned by the Taliban) involving cutting down rivals' kites with razor-sharp string until only one is left. Just as prestigious is the reclamation of the fallen kites. So when Amir wins the contest, Hassan, the runner, sets off to retrieve the losing kite. What happens next changes both of their lives for ever. For many years Amir fails to face up to what his actions - or lack of actions - have done.

The play has a simple but effective set - a backdrop screen changing between Kabul and Pakistan's towers, minarets or ruins, and the skyscrapers of San Francisco. At times these are overlaid with huge kite shaped screens, sometimes used for shadow play.

The music is a vital part of this production. In particular the live tabla playing of Hanif Khan punctuates the drama throughout, enhancing the feeling of place and underlining the action.

In terms of the plot and characterisation, some aspects are missing. The beginning does not fully engage us in the love-hate relationship between the two boys, nor in Amir's great need to be number one with his father. But it would hardly be possible for a play - even one running around two hours - to portray the complexities, subtleties and details of a book such as this. Nonetheless, under the direction of Giles Croft, it does more than just distil its essence.

Stuart Vincent as Amir carries the weight of the story, acting as boy and man and also as narrator. He does so very well. He is supported by Yazdan Qafouri as Hassan and later as Sohrab, Hassan's son. Special mentions for Bhavin Bhatt, menacing as a young bully, frightening as an adult tyrant, and for Daphne Kouma, who plays Amir's wife, Soraya. She brings a freshness to the play that features nearly all men.

Whilst this is a story of terrible events, it doesn't overwhelm with gloom for it is also one of redemption, as Amir seeks to right his wrongs. Fittingly, it ends with the flying of a kite - a symbol of hope.


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